Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Sermon: Adopted into the family of God

Sermon for Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, 17th of July 2011

Romans 8:12-25

Over the past month we’ve been spending time with the Apostle Paul, listening to the deeply theological letter that he wrote to the Christian community in Rome. In the first part of his letter, Paul argued that righteousness, being in a right relationship with God, comes from faith rather than from anything we do ourselves; it’s not something we need to earn by obeying religious law.

During the past few weeks we’ve been hearing from the second part of the letter, in which Paul elaborates on what that righteousness, being in relationship with God, means for us. If you can remember all the way back to the 26th of June, in that day’s reading Paul was answering the question that I think many people have asked: ‘What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?’ (Romans 6:15) Paul answered: ‘By no means!’ explaining that by voluntarily sinning we make ourselves slaves to sin. Then, in the reading from two weeks ago, the last time I was here, Paul explained that by ourselves we would have no choice but to be slaves to sin. Paul wrote: ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do’ (7:19). By ourselves we cannot live as God wants, because something is not right with the world; God created the world but somehow the world got lost; the world is not in that state of glory for which God created it. We’re all part of a world that is not the way it should be; we’re all in a state of sin. And so, as Paul says, we can will what is right, but we cannot do it (7:18).

But we haven’t been left in this state. God loves us, and in Jesus Christ God’s love has set us free from the sin that dwells within us and around us. In last week’s reading, Paul reassured the Romans, and us, that ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set [us] free from the law of sin and of death’. (8:2) He wrote that we’re no longer living in the flesh, but in the Spirit. I just have to note here that by ‘flesh’ Paul does not mean the body. He’s not equating flesh with body and Spirit with soul – for Christians the body is good, because in the Incarnation God became embodied. Paul’s distinguishing between a fleshly life trapped in all the sin of the world, separated from God – and life in the Spirit, set free and in relationship with God.

Now, in today’s reading, Paul gives us a new description of what that relationship with God is.

Suddenly, Paul refers to believers as the children of God. The spirit that believers have received is not one of slavery, but one of adoption. In the Spirit believers cry out Abba, Father, bearing witness that they are God’s children. There’s been no hint of this relationship of adoption before in the letter, the concept’s introduced abruptly, which suggests that Paul thought his audience would find it familiar. Becoming children of God wasn’t a big theme in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it was mentioned a few times as a privilege enjoyed by Israel, an expression of the intimacy and closeness to God experienced by that one nation alone. By arguing that now all those who experience the freedom of life in the Spirit are children of God, Paul’s arguing that the privileges previously considered to belong to Israel alone are now extended to all believers, Gentiles as well as Jews. All of us are the children of God, adopted in our baptism.

Paul then moves from believers’ status as children to our status as heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ. That’s a phenomenal thing to think about. We are not just children of God, we are co-heirs with Christ. Everything that is his is ours. We could not be more important or have a higher status in the world than this. Wealth, race, gender, class, sexuality, intellect, employment – none of this matters. And it’s a status that is widely shared. The poorest child living in a slum in the developing world has the same intrinsic worth as the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are all children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

Our status as co-heirs with Christ is not, however, a simple matter. Both glory and suffering are involved in this inheritance. Glory makes sense, in Christ God was glorified, and in the resurrection and ascension God glorified Christ. But why is there still suffering in this post-resurrection world? If God has defeated the powers of sin and death, why is life not perfect? Paul now needs to explain why, with all he has said about Christ and the Spirit, human life is still so painful. So, Paul looks at suffering in an eschatological light, and finds it godly.

‘I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us’, writes Paul. Not only are these sufferings not worth comparing to the coming glory, as his argument unfolds Paul claims that they’re actually evidence for that glory. The present suffering of believers is a sharing in the suffering and death of Christ. In his letters Paul always considers his own suffering as him sharing in the sufferings of Christ; here he expands that idea to include the sufferings of all believers. Suffering is a sign of identification with Christ, he argues, and so it’s a necessary stage of our journey to the eternal glory that Christ now experiences. Paul would be appalled by today’s prosperity theologians who argue that once you ‘have Jesus’ everything will go right. For Paul, if you’re not suffering for your faith, you’re not truly Christian.

I don’t think that means that we need to go looking for ways to suffer; try to make martyrs of ourselves. There’s enough suffering in the world for us to experience without going to look for more. What I think it does mean is that in a world of pain and evil and violence and grief, Christians aren’t to run away from suffering, to try to keep ourselves and our families and friends isolated from the sufferings of the rest of the world. We’re to enter into all that pain and grief, knowing that it isn’t the way the world is meant to be, and, following Jesus, do what we can to change it, to make it better, knowing that that better world is God’s ultimate plan.

Suffering and glory, pain and hope, are connected because those who suffer in the present time are those who are already the children of God. This present time is the ‘between time’, the time between the resurrection of Christ and his return, a period of overlap between the current ‘evil age’ and the resurrection age. Christians are already children of God, but we’re not yet living fully as children of God. But we have the sure and certain hope that the eschaton, the end-time, is coming. We have the first fruits of this new world, love, freedom, life over death. Having tasted these first fruits, we groan inwardly when love is absent, freedom is taken away, life is shortened. As children of God, baptised into Christ, we follow Christ in sharing love, freedom and life with the whole creation.

I’m going to finish this sermon by cheating a little. I’ve been talking about Paul’s understanding of suffering, and suffering’s not a happy note on which to end a sermon. So I’m going to skip ahead to next week’s reading, and end this sermon with one of my all-time favourite Bible verses. In next week’s reading Paul continues to talk about suffering, but he ends the discussion with the ringing affirmation: ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (8:38-9) And that’s where I’ll end.  We are the children of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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July 17, 2011 - Posted by | Ministry | , , , ,

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